Ghost Hunting Personalities – Entertainers… or Researchers?

In ghost hunting — and the paranormal field, in general — there are two very different approaches… and a broad overlap between them.

tv-remoteEntertainers appear in the media, and they’re paid guests at events and at “investigations.”

They are there to entertain you. They may be speaking from memorized scripts. If what they’re saying (or portraying on TV) is true, that’s nice… but not necessary, as they see it.

If you enjoy their performances, they’ve succeeded and their careers grow.  If they don’t, they fade away, reinvent themselves, or shift to another line of work.

They create an illusion so the audience suspends disbelief long enough to enjoy the performance.  That’s measured in TV ratings and tickets sold at events.

David Blaine is one of many entertainers who appear to be working mystical feats. He correctly describes himself as an illusionist.

clue-magnifierResearchers look for breakthroughs in paranormal studies.  Their standard is integrity.

Most don’t care if they entertain anyone.

What they discover — and the tools and techniques that they develop — may become far more famous than the developers’ names.

Bill Chappell is the inventor of many brilliant research tools (often featured on Ghost Adventures). More people recognize the name of his inventions (such as the Ovilus) than his own name.

I’m a researcher, not an entertainer.  I say, “Fiona Broome” and people may look confused.  I mention, and they suddenly recognize me.  (It’s nice when people recognize my name, but I’d rather have them remember my discoveries.)

Few are both researchers and entertainers.

Some researchers have been cast in paranormal “reality shows.” Some actors in those shows — with no prior research experience — became brilliant investigators.

But, in general, how someone seems on TV may be very different from how they appear in person, and how much ghost hunting expertise they actually have.

I could list several “ghost hunting experts” from TV shows who, in real life, had little understanding of paranormal research.

I’ve also known several genuine experts who had more experience and integrity than viewers saw on related TV shows.

A couple of genuine researchers who’ve starred on TV shows

John Zaffis is a good example of someone who’s worked in both research and entertainment (The Haunted Collector).  He was a respected researcher and demonologist for many years before ghost hunting became popular. His joking manner can be entertaining… but he’s speaking from decades of genuine research.

Barry Fitzgerald is another researcher who’s bridged the gap between academic and scientific study, and the entertainment field (Ghost Hunters International).

They’re just two of many researcher/entertainers I’ve admired for their integrity and expertise in real life. (I mention them because wasn’t thrilled with how they were edited for their respected TV shows. They deserve more recognition as innovative investigators.)

Have low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Before attending an event or public “investigation,” it’s important to adjust your expectations.  For the past 15+ years, I’ve said in my Guidelines for ghost hunters, “…if someone is charging you money as if they’re providing a show… perhaps they are.”

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a con artist and an entertainer.  In most cases, the entertainer separates his (or her) role, on stage, from what’s true in his personal life.  The lines may blur, but there’s no fraud involved.


Sure, an entertainer may disappoint you with a poor performance, but that’s different from being a fraud.

Likewise, a researcher’s results may be disproved by later studies.  That’s not a con, it’s a normal part of trial-and-error research… there will be errors!

The vast majority of entertainers and researchers are good, honest people. They have every reason to be proud of their work.

The biggest confusion is when a TV show or movie presents an entertainer as an expert when he (or she) isn’t one in real life.

Or, when people attend an event or public ghost hunt, and expect every expert to be chatty and entertaining.

“Reality shows” can blur the lines. When you meet stars or researchers in real life, keep your expectations in check so you’re not disappointed.

Do you have a question or opinion on this subject?  Let me know in the comments form, below.

Fake! Does It Matter in Ghost Hunting?

Integrity is a researcher’s most valued asset. In this field, it’s especially important.  However, since entertainment has become part of the paranormal scene, the lines have blurred between reality and showmanship.

Now, a storm is brewing, and it’s time to examine our expectations and standards in the paranormal field.

crime-scene1“Fake!” is a charge I see far too often in this field… and usually with the wrong people.

I’m not sure if that’s ironic or missing the point.

It’s true that there are fakes, frauds, and con men (and women) working in ghost-related professions.

There are also sincere researchers who are looking for answers to questions that have been around for centuries.

It may be important to know the difference.  Or, depending on your goals and interests, maybe it doesn’t matter.

I can think of four major reasons why people are attracted to this field.

Knowing your goals — and others’ — can help you spot the fakes.  Or, it can help you shrug off the controversy and focus on your own interests.


Many people enjoy ghost-related TV shows, ghost tours, dinner and stage presentations, and ghost-themed events.

If you’re looking for entertainment, keep your focus on the fun. Don’t worry how much of it is real or just a clever presentation.

In real life, ghost hunting is tedious.  The one-hour show you see on TV may have taken two to five days to film.  You’re only seeing the interesting moments.

If you’re at an event and one or two people keep you entertained for an entire evening, as if it’s a show… maybe it is.

But, if you’re only there for the fun and an occasional “good scare,” does it really matter how much of it is real?

Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction isn’t “real.”  However, many ghost enthusiasts — including me — wait in line for an hour or longer to enter that attraction, because it’s great entertainment.

If you’re at an event or watching a show to be entertained, judge it by the fun, period.

You want a question answered

Many people have questions about ghosts.

  • You may want to know if there really is something after death.
  • You may have had a ghostly encounter, and want to know if it was real.
  • You may suspect that you’re psychic, but you’re not sure.
  • Or, a movie or TV show scared you, and you want to know if that kind of phenomena is real.

If that’s what draws you to paranormal research, get involved with a good research group, or start one yourself.

Some TV shows*, stage presentations, and events lean towards “entertainment.”   In other words, they may be faking some or all of what you see.

Unfortunately, people who want to believe in an afterlife can be among the most gullible.

If you’re looking for answers to spiritual questions, keep these two points in mind:

1. You may never find absolute proof of an afterlife or ghosts.  “Clear evidence” for one person may seem ridiculous to someone else.  Only you can decide if you’ve found answers you seek.

2. Many seekers are vulnerable.  Become a skeptic.  Don’t confuse performers with genuine researchers.  Learn to tell them apart.

After you find an answer to your questions — or decide that there is no answer — you may lose interest in paranormal studies.

It’s okay to walk away from ghost hunting if (and when) it stops being interesting.  Don’t keep watching TV shows, paying for events, or going on investigations if they’re disappointing you.

If others ask, it’s fine to say, “I found the answer that I was looking for.  It’s personal.”  And then, change the subject.

Or, once you feel as if you found what you’re looking for, you may be more interested in paranormal research.  If so, your help is encouraged!

You’re accompanying a friend who’s interested in ghosts

Sometimes, people  join a friend (or friends) at a ghost tour or a ghost investigation.  Soon, they’re involved in paranormal research, too.

Or, they go to an entertainment-style event, find it intriguing, and become a fan.

Remember why you’re there, and — before taking anything seriously — use your critical thinking skills.  Get educated.  Listen to believers and skeptics alike.   Both provide important advice.

Power, fame, money, applause and popularity

stage-lightsWhen any subject is featured on several TV shows, some people get involved for fame and fortune.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone’s reasonably honest about it.  Most theatrical ghost tours are clearly fake. As long as you remember it’s just a show, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it.Now and then, an entertainer will mix reality and performance.  More than one genuine psychic has been tripped up that way, feeling obliged to put on a show when nothing was actually going on.

Would you be happier spending $150 for a ghost hunt in which nothing happened all evening… or if a few people exaggerated their experiences, to give attendees a chill?

My advice for fans:  Treat ghost hunting like any other form of entertainment.  Some shows will be more authentic and more fun than others. Decide your goals — and your spending limit — and stick to it.

Entertainer or researcher… or both?

Among ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal “experts,” some people are entertainers.  They can be tremendous fun, on- and off-stage.

Some tell wonderful stories.  They may also be moderately psychic… or good at convincing you that they are.

Enjoy that for what it is:  Great fun.

Others are serious researchers.  I’m one of them.  Frankly, we can be geeky, boring people.  However, if you can keep from nodding off when we talk about our latest projects, you may glean some useful insights for your own research.

People like me were paranormal researchers long before TV shows made ghost hunting popular**.  We’ll be here long after the fad is eclipsed by the next popular trend, too.

If you’re attending an event, listening to the radio or watching TV, ask yourself:

  • Is this person an entertaining speaker presenting  reliable information?
  • Is this improving your understanding of ghosts and ghost hunting?
  • Or, is he (or she) putting on a show?  If so, is it entertaining?

Houdini wasn’t a “fake.” He was a performer.

The same can be said for modern-day stage magicians.  The fun (and the challenge) is figuring out how he or she makes it seem real.

The excruciatingly boring speaker at a conference probably isn’t “fake.” He or she is sharing research results.  If you thrill to news about scientific breakthroughs, the fun is examining the evidence to see if it’s helpful.  The learning curve… maybe not so much fun.

In general, if you know what your goals are, use them to judge the merits of the TV show, event, investigation or personality.

Fake?  That’s an issue if you’re looking for answers and a genuine encounter with the paranormal world.

A better question is whether you’re disappointed, and if the show, event or person is worth your time.

This article is primarily about the differences between entertainers and researchers.  If you’re concerned that someone is a fraud, see my article, Scams and Con Artists.

*I’ve always defended Jason Hawes’ and Grant Wilson’s work on the Ghost Hunters TV show.  I don’t know if they were set up.

We all know that editing can dramatically change how something looks.

However, Grant or Jason faking something paranormal is as likely as a rabid Red Sox fan cheering for the Yankees when the teams are head-to-head.  It’s not likely to happen, ever.

**I began writing for FATE magazine in the early 1980s (via the Wayback Machine). My first Fate story with a byline (under the pen name Margaret Brighton) was the true California ghost story, “Boots,” published in February 1989.  This website — first as “Yankee Haunts” and then Hollow Hill — has been online since the mid-1990s.  In other words, I can prove how long I’ve been professional in this field.  I do my best to be an entertaining speaker, but first and foremost, I’m a very geeky ghost hunter.

Betsy Ross Ghost Investigation – Another TV Hoax?

stars-and-stripes1The Betsy Ross episode of “Ghost Hunters” had barely aired when I started receiving emails.

People are asking me if Betsy Ross was a hoax, but I suspect that many are actually asking me about the TAPS team.

I’ll repeat my previous statement:  I’ve known Jason and Grant for years.  I trust them 100% and have no doubts about their integrity.  They didn’t get into ghost hunting for fame or fortune, and they’re not going to knowingly risk their reputations for something as silly as show ratings.

Have the show’s production staff ever faked evidence, edited the show so the televised version was different from what occurred, or outright conned the stars…? Those are fair questions that I can’t answer.


It’s important to separate the issues.  First, there’s the TAPS investigation of the Betsy Ross house.  The Ghost Hunters’ reveal segment summarizes what they experienced.

Then there are the historical questions, which are academic more than experiential.

So, criticism of the house’s history does not reflect one way or the other on the integrity of the Ghost Hunters’ episode and especially not the stars’ investigations.


Regarding Betsy Ross, her famous Philadelphia house and her involvement with one of the earliest American flags… no one can absolutely, positively prove anything one way or the other.  They can only talk about evidence that’s lacking.

In court, both sides would rely mostly on hearsay and circumstantial evidence.  It’s true that no one can prove that she sewed anything in that house… but they can’t prove that she didn’t.

I’m posting part of an email that I sent to one reader this morning.  The Hollow Hill reader who’d written to me referred to a link supposedly “busting” the Betsy Ross legends.

Here’s part of my reply:

lantern-w-flagsI wouldn’t take that article too seriously. Few events in history were lived as if they’d need to be documented for skeptics.

Really, could you absolutely, positively prove what you had for lunch a week ago, and provide enough overwhelming evidence to convince a rabid skeptic? Probably not.  A receipt or your memories probably wouldn’t be enough.

There are groups that insist there was no Holocaust. You’ll also find hundreds of articles that claim that the Oklahoma City bombing  was a government conspiracy, and the Pentagon was never hit by a plane on 9/11.

Likewise, many people have written carefully footnoted articles insisting that no astronaut has ever walked on the Moon.

Note: Please don’t comment here about those controversies.  I’m not taking sides in those arguments, just showing that many (or most) historical accounts have two or more sides with enough evidence to raise questions.

In my opinion, historical arguments can actually increase activity in a haunted site.  The spirits know the truth and they may try to convey it to us, by whatever means they have.


For people who will only believe in Betsy Ross if they see her, in person, and actually witness her stitching the flag…. well, there is no proof that will satisfy them.

To them, it’s all “myth and folklore” and there’s nothing anyone can do to convince them otherwise. I am sorry for their cynicism. Their lives must be very bitter.

Is the Betsy Ross story entirely true? People will decide for themselves how much makes sense, given the existing evidence and the strength of historical traditions.

Here’s something to consider: If you don’ t believe that Betsy Ross sewed the famous flag, it might be smart to look for hauntings at the home of the person who actually sewed it.  He or she may have a story to tell.


When considering the haunting of any location, documented history can affect how we tell the story, but little else.

For example, we’ve seen sites that increase in activity because visitors believe that the location is haunted.   Those visitors’ beliefs and emotional reactions may contribute to the residual energy.  Gilson Road Cemetery (Nashua, NH) may be an example of that, as may Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation.

We’ve also heard reports of ghosts who should logically haunt where they lived and/or died… but they haunt a site more popularly associated with them.  (Portsmouth, NH’s Sise Inn comes to mind, since the ghosts probably lived in a nearby house.  By the time people researched the facts, the ghost stories were already associated with the Sise Inn.)

In my opinion, history can anecdotally support evidence of paranormal activity, and vice versa.

Did Betsy Ross actually sew the famous flag in that house?  Maybe she did.  Maybe she didn’t.  History is not especially relevant to the credibility of any ghostly encounter at the famous Betsy Ross house.

History can be an issue when psychics make claims that contradict well-documented facts.

However, the TAPS team were there for physical evidence.  History is not a factor, one way or the other, and it makes critics look silly when they raise irrelevant arguments.